I don’t go to many parties these days, perhaps because there aren’t many truly good ones around. The ones I do go to invariably have a groan-making ‘shoes off’ policy (I’ve stopped caring about holes in my socks) or involve hordes of toddlers gnawing on various electrical equipment and screaming. But I don’t dread any of that. It’s the inevitable ‘and what do you do?’ question that really gets me. Not because people aren’t interested – in fact, it’s always the opposite. “Oh, what kind of books?” people ask brightly, when I mention that I write. “Anything I might have read?”
There is no Booker Prize for ghostwriting. No Orange prize, no Pulitzer, no Nobel. In fact, there is very little recognition at all. That suits me down to the ground; if one of ‘my’ books appears in the media under its author, that’s fine by me. I’ve done my job; it’s now up to the author to do theirs and promote it. That’s how it works.
“But don’t you miss having your name on the front?” people ask. Fair question, but the answer’s ‘no’. By the time it’s come out I’ve moved on. I might have been a famous footballer a month ago, but now I’m a celebrity chef or a politician or Mr Nobody with a fantastic true-life tale to relate. I like shifting shapes, becoming someone else for a while. If I wrote under my own name – fiction or non-fiction – I’d soon get pigeonholed. That kind of writer for that kind of genre for that space on the shelf. No thanks – I’d rather be free and flexible. That’s not to say that I won’t write my ‘own’ book, but as every ghostwritten book I complete feels personal to me – and, like every writer, I read the latest reviews with a squint – I do feel I have ownership of what I write, if not in name.
It’s a hard one to explain, writing without ego. But there it is, and it’s what makes me a successful ghost. Over the coming months I’ll try to explain the process and share some insights into this shadowy but highly responsible job I seem to have acquired.